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September 9, 2004

By David W. Virtue

The actions of Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno to inhibit and depose six clergy and then move vigorously to take their parish properties from them, is a scene that we are seeing repeatedly being played out across the country as the revisionist steamroller meets the stone wall of Christian orthodoxy.

Of course Bishop Bruno is not the first bishop to thus act and he certainly won't be the last. But he has been the loudest and most vocal to date in his attempt to annihilate the few remaining orthodox priests in his ultra-liberal diocese, using the power of his office to deal swiftly with rebellious orthodox priests.

In a blinding flash his wounded ego and his desire for even higher office got destroyed and this quickly translated into ecclesiastical outrage, and the man erupted like Mt. Vesuvius. He fired off letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury, two African bishops (one an Archbishop), solicited the help of Frank Griswold, ECUSA's Presiding Bishop and got unsolicited support from the revisionist "Progressive" Episcopal crowd out of Pittsburgh, home of the Episcopal Church's leader of the Anglican Communion Network - Bishop Robert Duncan.

Bruno ordered the priests to cease and desist all ministries, vacate the properties or he would bring an injunction against them prohibiting them from even using the buildings. The threat was real, though empty.

That he would move so quickly from inhibition to deposition is probably no surprise to these priests. They expected it and clearly they were prepared and just as equally they don't care. They made their moves with eyes wide open and expected the worst. They got it.

On Tuesday the Diocese of Los Angeles filed lawsuits seeking to confiscate the church
properties of the three breakaway parishes of St. James Church, Newport Beach; All Saints' Church, Long Beach, and St. David's Church, North Hollywood.

The suits, filed in both Los Angeles and Orange County, was aimed, according to Bishop Bruno through his attorney, to "preserve these churches as houses of worship for faithful Episcopalians as they have been since their founding."

The parish priests responded saying they were deeply disappointed that the diocese had rejected the possibility of a peaceful resolution, saying the lawsuits were "senseless and intolerant."

The local churches hold the deeds to these properties, and hundreds of church families have raised money to acquire and build them, they said. "We are amazed at the callous disregard of the religious rights of hundreds of families who overwhelmingly voted their conscience to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles."

Now all that remains is to see who will win in the courts over property ownership. Bruno is placing his entire reputation on the line that he can win using the Dennis Canon, the power of the Episcopal Church and the appearance in court of David Booth Beers, Griswold's legal hangman.

It is clear that either these priests or an orthodox priest somewhere in the U.S. is going to have to challenge the Dennis Canon all the way to the Supreme Court of the US, not merely to a State Supreme Court. A ruling is clearly needed to not only assist fleeing orthodox parish priests from revisionist bishops, but also for orthodox bishops who now find that they have fleeing orthodox parishes, because of the actions of General Convention last summer, the National Church and Frank Griswold.

Beers has made it very clear to all diocesan chancellors that he will not tolerate any parish property leaving the ECUSA without a fight by the diocesan bishop and, at a minimum, fair payment for the value of the property, if the bishop decides he is not willing to engage in a long drawn out court battle if he doesn't have the money.

Now it truly begins to get messy.

Some dioceses are richer than others. Some have major endowments like the Diocese of Pennsylvania which has more than $70 million at its disposal; other dioceses, like the Diocese of Quincy have little or none.

Some revisionist parishes in the Diocese of Los Angeles have already started a collection to give Bruno for legal fees in his fight against the three parish priests.

In the end it may well boil down to who has the most money to pursue the case to the very end. A ruling can be given by one judge and then appealed, and then it goes up the line to another judge, sometimes taking years for anything to be fully resolved. Nothing moves fast in the legal world.

Now the orthodox would like to see the fight stay at a theological and moral level, with the revisionist bishops admitting they have no theology and are not interested in upholding Biblical restraints on sexual behavior, and then for everyone to agree that parting is best and the property should stay with the rector, vestry and parish.

But that, as it turns out, is not on the niceness, inclusivity and diversity agenda that revisionist bishops like Bruno have in mind.

Their attitude is, "so you don't agree with me, too bad, you can go and leave the keys and check book on the table as you depart." That has happened in the Dioceses of Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, to name but a few, but it is by no means the norm.

The Rev. Paul Walter, a feisty Evangelical priest in the Diocese of Missouri wants out and he wants his paid up parish property, and he is prepared to fight for it "as far as it takes." Bishop George Wayne Smith is fighting back with the help of the National Church. He has, of course, deposed the priest - another fine example of the triumph of the canons over Scripture.

There are also clusters of orthodox priests and their parishes in the Dioceses of Florida, Connecticut and Eastern Michigan that are waiting to see the outcome of the Lambeth/Eames commission before they act.

Clearly the problems are not going away, in fact all the evidence points to increasing fragmentation in the coming months and years. With fragmentation comes hope that the new and emerging realignment will bring a fresh start for beleaguered orthodox priests.

It is interesting that the three Los Angeles parishes did not choose to wait for the outcome of the Lambeth/Eames Commission, but acted instead now!

When I asked an insider why they did, I was told that Bruno had asked for a copy of St. James' bylaws, and to prevent a possible strike by him against their parishes, they acted quickly to pre-empt him.

Now it is all in the courts.

The spin doctors at the church's national headquarters are saying it is a mere handful of churches leaving the ECUSA, but that is patently untrue.

Dozens have left the ECUSA for the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA), and increasingly more are coming directly under overseas orthodox primates.

Furthermore these are not small urban or country parishes; they are triple-digit parishes with some congregations having well over a 1,000 members. We are not talking chump change. Why else would Bruno scream like a banshee when he got the news? If it were three no name parishes with less than 40 members he'd have turned them into missions and fahgetaboutit.

So the question must be asked, how and why are things getting so bad, so fast? And is it irreversible?

Wherever I travel, I am constantly being told by orthodox parish priests, often with tears in their eyes, the confusion they feel. They say something like this. "David, I know, or thought I knew my bishop; we were friends, we traveled to Africa together, and with our wives we dined out and saw movies together. He baptized our children. Now I don't know him. Because I won't toe the line and be "inclusive" on sexuality issues and agree to support him in consecrating V. Gene Robinson, I am a pariah. My phone calls go unreturned. I am not invited into the inner workings of the diocese. I am not asked to sit on any diocesan committees...I am alone...and I am scared. The only truth I know is the handful of brothers who now stand with me, without them I would be truly lost and alone."

This story, or some variation of it, is one I hear repeatedly, as I criss cross America, and it is truly heart-breaking.

And usually I respond like this. "My dear brothers, you are dealing with unregenerate men and women who dress in purple, wear large crosses and miters, and strut around like lords of the manor, but their hearts are far from God. They are corporate players, minor league CEO's, who see the Episcopal Church as a career opportunity, and you are merely chess players to be moved at will. Their brains were long ago scrambled in seminary, and all they have now is a liturgy to follow which most of them don't believe in any way; but they say the words, churn out a third rate sermon about God's all-inclusive love, and the people nod, not knowing any better. The truth is, you have no power, they have no gospel, no Good News, and if you cross them, you're finished."

Los Angeles might be called the City of Angels, but for orthodox Episcopalians, the angels are dark ones, and one of them wears a purple shirt.


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